Shadow Dancer 13/06/27 3:00
Adapted by Tom Bradby from his own novel, the story begins in Belfast during the 1970s, when a young girl is asked by her father to go out and get cigarettes, but she makes her little brother go out instead, only to see his body brought back, victim of a stray English bullet. The close-up of her terrified and grief-stricken face is indelible. Cut to 1996. The girl, Colette, is now in her late 20s, and she's picked up by MI5 after an abortive attempt to leave a bomb on a London subway. The agent in charge, played by Clive Owen, offers her a choice—she can go to prison and be separated, perhaps forever, from her young son, or she can turn informer on the IRA. After much silent agony, she takes the deal.
Colette is played by Andrea Riseborough, whose pinched and careworn face conveys a life buffeted by constant calamity, and throughout the film she acts guarded and withholding, a strategy that helps her survive the competing demands of her family, including a brother played by Aidan Gillen who is prominent in the IRA; and Mac, the tough MI5 agent played by Owen, who gradually becomes more emotionally invested in her case than his superiors would like. Much of the film consists of a subdued sort of tug of war between the rumpled, weary professional and his vulnerable informer. David Wilmot plays a ruthless young IRA chieftain who begins to have suspicions—a chilling scene between him and Colette features a silent henchman laying a plastic tarp on the floor in a nearby room, just in case it's needed for some bloodletting, we assume.
Gillian Anderson is on hand as Owen's boss at MI5. Her attitude towards his little project has a disturbing air of condescension, and when he starts to suspect that the agency has a hidden agenda regarding Colette, the situation becomes ominous. The surprise of the film's ending is not a trick or a twist, as it too common in the thriller genre, but instead has a meaningful logic that immediately lets all the pieces of the story fall into place.
The film, in its cold and unglamorous view of political intrigue, reminds me a little of the spy fictions of John Le Carre. The events are set against the background of the talks that eventually led to the Good Friday agreement which ended armed struggle in Northern Ireland. The emphasis, however, is wholly on the personal, on the bitterness of old hurts that continue to foster new violence, and in the hopes, however desperate, for something better. Shadow Dancer artfully maps the inward stress of people trapped in something beyond their control.